I observed a middle school math class where students in a group of four were given 10 math problems to complete. Students understanding of task- ”Work together to get the problems solved as quickly as possible with correct answers.” They couldn’t believe it when I told them the teacher didn’t care how many problem they finished. Her goal was for all four of the group members to understand how to do the problems.
Timothy Quinn, writing in Group Work Doesn’t Spell Collaboration* states that, ”Group work is neither widely used nor as effective as necessary if we wish to produce a generation of learners adept at collaborating--- collaboration is neither systematically taught nor modeled for students”.
I have often presented that whatever skills we want our students to practice, we as teachers need to teach the skills and model the skills. Most students have never seen their teacher cooperate. As Doug Reeves noted, most of the research we have on cooperative learning was done by a doctoral student working alone.
Quinn suggests teaching effective collaborative strategies including:
-Listening to others
-Establishing common goals
-Assign roles and responsibilities
-Determine measures for accountability
-Give constructive feedback
-Assess the group’s progress
As I consider that list, I realize we have a problem. Many professional learning community sessions and grade level team and department meetings I have observed would cause me to believe that many teachers have not been taught nor have they practiced the collaborative skills we want them to teach their students.
Quinn poses that students who work in isolation in their education career will be ill-equipped to handle the challenges of collaboration in college and careers. I’ll pose that teachers working in isolation with independent accountability for student learning will be ill-prepared to teach and model the collaboration we want students to develop.
School leaders who invest in developing teachers’ collaborative skills will increase the likelihood that students will be provided the necessary instruction, practice, and modeling of collaborative skills and environments.
*Phi Delta Kappan, December (2012/January2013) Group work Doesn’t Spell Collaboration, Timothy Quinn,(46-48)